An excerpt from an interview with Pakistani author Fatima Bhutto. She was asked what comes to mind when she hears the word “violence” and how this understanding shapes her writing style.
Violence is more than just a word or even an attack. Violence is atmospheric. Like the weather, it’s a condition that covers over every choice, every human process, and is integral to how we gauge and navigate daily life. To have some consideration toward violence requires that we account for these climates of action and emotion, and I suspect that’s always been the case.
Even when I was very young, before I had so many personal encounters with violence, it still was atmospheric. It was always spoken about. It never left, even if there were sunnier or darker days, you always felt its pressure. Violence for me has always been there, on the minds of everyone in my family. I would even go so far as to say it was the biggest consideration to life. How to live in an environment where violence is ever present and has shaped who I have become.
I have of course always tried to keep a distance, and that’s part of the coping strategy. We try not to let violence in. But sometimes that’s not possible. It can seek you out like a slowly building storm.
For me, literature was a way of engaging violence in a way that brings these atmospherics more into the open. My writing is not so much about critiquing violence as it is a means to try and survive it. I have always tried to come to terms through my work with how we travel through violence, especially how we can travel without being corroded and broken by our encounters with it. Violence seeks to break us down. Writing for me has been a form of personal resistance to this.
I think that when you live with a fair amount of violence, which is always hovering like an omnipresent threat — and, in that sense, even if it doesn’t materialize in the immediacy of the moment that doesn’t mean it’s ambivalent — then the critique is far less important than the surviving. And what I mean by surviving is not just to be unharmed, but to not be made ugly by it. Survival is a refusal to be deformed. I just find the focus on critique alone to be too academic.
Violence has this poisonous affect, creeping into everything: every thought, every wish, every prayer, every vision. So, for me, literature is a survival practice that tries to see how other people have thought about it, been saved from it, and how one emotionally and intellectually, even perhaps spiritually, continues through life without being too damaged and ruined.
One thought on “A Refusal to be Deformed”
As I read this reflection of violence being atmospheric (continually in the air all around us) I could not help but feel this is what Black Americans must feel, knowing that they will always need to “have the talk” with their children.